Bioethics

Abortion in Wonderland

By Charles Foster

 

 

Image: Heidi Crowter: Copyright Don’t Screen Us Out

Scene: A pub in central London

John: They did something worthwhile there today, for once, didn’t they? [He motions towards the Houses of Parliament]

Jane: What was that?

John: Didn’t you hear? They’ve passed a law saying that a woman can abort a child up to term if the child turns out to have red hair.

Jane: But I’ve got red hair!

John: So what? The law is about the fetus. It has nothing whatever to do with people who are actually born.

Jane: Eh?

That’s the gist of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in the case of Aidan Lea-Wilson and Heidi Crowter (now married and known as Heidi Carter).  Continue reading

There Is No Such Thing As A Purely Logical Argument

Written By Mette Leonard Høeg

This blogpost is a prepublication draft of an article forthcoming in THINK.

It is well-known that rational insight and understanding of scientific facts do not necessarily lead to psychological change and shifts in intuitions. In his paper “Grief and the inconsolation of philosophy” (unpublished manuscript), Dominic Wilkinson sheds light on this gap between insight and emotions as he considers the potential of philosophy for offering consolation in relation to human mortality. More specifically, he looks at the possibility of Derek Parfit’s influential reductionist definition of personal identity for providing psychological consolation in the face of the death of oneself and of others. In Reasons and Persons, Parfit argues that personal identity is reducible to physical and psychological continuity of mental states, and that there is no additional fact, diachronic entity or essence that determines identity; and he points to the potential for existential liberation and consolation in adopting this anti-essentialist perspective: “Is the truth depressing? Some might find it so. But I find it liberating, and consoling. When I believed that my existence was such a further fact, I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air.”

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The Non-Rationality of Radical Human Enhancement and Transhumanism

Written by David Lyreskog

 

The human enhancement debate has over the last few decades been concerned with ethical issues in methods for improving the physical, cognitive, or emotive states of individual people, and of the human species as a whole. Arguments in favour of enhancement, particularly from transhumanists, typically defend it as a paradigm of rationality, presenting it as a clear-eyed, logical defence of what we stand to gain from transcending the typical limits of our species. Continue reading

Nudges and Incomplete Preferences

Written by Sarah Raskoff

(Post is based on my recently published paper in Bioethics

Nudges are small changes in the presentation of options that make a predictable impact on people’s decisions. Proponents of nudges often claim that they are justified as paternalistic interventions that respect autonomy: they lead people to make better choices, while still allowing them to choose for themselves. A classic example is changing the location of food items in a cafeteria so that healthier choices are more salient. The salience of healthy foods predictably leads people to select them, even though they are still free to select the unhealthy options, too.

Nudges have become increasingly popular, but there are many objections to their widespread use. Some allege that nudges do not actually benefit people, while others suspect that they do not really respect autonomy. Although there are many ways of making sense of this latter concern, in a recent paper, I develop a new version of this objection, which takes as its starting point the observation that people often have incomplete preferences. Continue reading

Brain Cells, Slime Mould, and Sentience Semantics

Recent media reports have highlighted a study suggesting that so-called “lab grown brain cells” can “play the video game ‘Pong’”. Whilst the researchers have described the system as ‘sentient’, others have maintained that we should use the term ”thinking system” to describe the system that the researchers created.

Does it matter whether we describe this as a thinking system, or a sentient one?

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Protecting Children or Policing Gender?

Laws on genital mutilation, gender affirmation and cosmetic genital surgery are at odds. The key criteria should be medical necessity and consent.

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

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In Ohio, USA, lawmakers are currently considering the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act that would ban hormones or surgeries for minors who identify as transgender or non-binary. In April this year, Alabama passed similar legislation.

Alleging anti-trans prejudice, opponents of such legislation say these bans will stop trans youth from accessing necessary healthcare, citing guidance from the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Providers of gender-affirming services point out that puberty-suppressing medications and hormone therapies are considered standard-of-care for trans adolescents who qualify. Neither is administered before puberty, with younger children receiving psychosocial support only. Meanwhile genital surgeries for gender affirmation are rarely performed before age 18.

Nevertheless, proponents of the new laws say they are needed to protect vulnerable minors from understudied medical risks and potentially lifelong bodily harms. Proponents note that irreversible mastectomies are increasingly performed before the age of legal majority.

Republican legislators in several states argue that if a child’s breasts or genitalia are ‘healthy’, there is no medical or ethical justification to use hormones or surgeries to alter those parts of the body.

However, while trans adolescents struggle to access voluntary services and rarely undergo genital surgeries prior to adulthood, non-trans-identifying children in the United States and elsewhere are routinely subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries affecting their healthy sexual anatomy — without opposition from conservative lawmakers.

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The Homeric Power of Advance Directives

By Charles Foster

[Image: Ulysses and the Sirens: John William Waterhouse, 1891: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne]

We shouldn’t underestimate Homer’s hold on us. Whether or not we’ve ever read him, he created many of our ruling memes.

I don’t think it’s fanciful (though it might be ambitious) to suggest that he, and the whole heroic ethos, are partly responsible for our uncritical adoption of a model of autonomy which doesn’t do justice to the sort of creatures we really are. That’s a big claim. I can’t justify it here. But one manifestation of that adoption is our exaggerated respect for advance directives – declarations made when one is capacitous about how one would like to be treated if incapacitous, and which are binding if incapacity supervenes if (in English law) the declaration is ‘valid and applicable.’ 1.

I suspect that some of this respect comes from the earliest and most colourful advance directive story ever: Odysseus and the Sirens. Continue reading

Cross Post: Tech firms are making computer chips with human cells – is it ethical?

Written by Julian Savulescu, Chris Gyngell, Tsutomu Sawai
Cross-posted with The Conversation

Shutterstock

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Christopher Gyngell, The University of Melbourne, and Tsutomu Sawai, Hiroshima University

The year is 2030 and we are at the world’s largest tech conference, CES in Las Vegas. A crowd is gathered to watch a big tech company unveil its new smartphone. The CEO comes to the stage and announces the Nyooro, containing the most powerful processor ever seen in a phone. The Nyooro can perform an astonishing quintillion operations per second, which is a thousand times faster than smartphone models in 2020. It is also ten times more energy-efficient with a battery that lasts for ten days.

A journalist asks: “What technological advance allowed such huge performance gains?” The chief executive replies: “We created a new biological chip using lab-grown human neurons. These biological chips are better than silicon chips because they can change their internal structure, adapting to a user’s usage pattern and leading to huge gains in efficiency.”

Another journalist asks: “Aren’t there ethical concerns about computers that use human brain matter?”

Although the name and scenario are fictional, this is a question we have to confront now. In December 2021, Melbourne-based Cortical Labs grew groups of neurons (brain cells) that were incorporated into a computer chip. The resulting hybrid chip works because both brains and neurons share a common language: electricity.

Continue reading

Exercise, Population Health and Paternalism

Written by Rebecca Brown

 

The NHS is emphatic in its confidence that exercise is highly beneficial for health. From their page on the “Benefits of exercise” come statements like:

“Step right up! It’s the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for”

“This is no snake oil. Whatever your age, there’s strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life”

“Given the overwhelming evidence, it seems obvious that we should all be physically active. It’s essential if you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life into old age”.

Setting aside any queries about the causal direction of the relationship between exercise and good health, or the precise effect size of the benefits exercise offers, it at least seems that the NHS is convinced that it is a remarkably potent health promotion tool. Continue reading

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